One Celtic Who Could Benefit from Playing in an Empty Gym

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Late last week, we finally received some good news in the sports world: the NBA is likely coming back. After a thoughtful, well-negotiated and collaborative process that puts the MLB to shame, both the NBAPA and the league's Board of Governors signed off on a return to play plan that is scheduled to tip off on July 31. Both sides still have some details to work out in the coming weeks, but all signs point towards the resumption of the 2019-20 NBA season at the end of July.

Photo courtesy of USA TODAY

Some things we already know.  There will be 22 teams invited to Orlando to finish out the season; the top 8 teams in each conference, and any team within 6 games of the 8th seed.  All 22 teams will play 8 games to finalize seeding, and then the playoffs will begin.  There will be 5-6 games every day, with teams playing just about every other day.  All of this and several other details have been ironed out.

However, the most compelling part of all this - and the one thing that will likely have the largest impact on the outcomes of games - is the fact that these games will be played in empty gyms.  The atmosphere inside an NBA arena during a playoff game is incredible, and can be a major equalizer.  It takes mental toughness to win a road playoff game.

Think back to some of the recent game 7's that the Boston Celtics have been a part of, and how a change of venue could have altered the outcome of that game.  Playing in front of your home fans gives you that extra adrenaline when you need it.  Players feed off of the crowd's energy.  Small leads can balloon quickly, and large deficits can be trimmed just as easily.  Playing in those types of environments can bring out the best in some players, and at the same time do the opposite for some.

The NBA has had preliminary talks about things they can do to give the higher seed some type of "home court advantage" in their playoff series.  Whatever they choose to do, it can't replicate the impact of playing in front of their fans.  It will be a fascinating thing to watch.  Fans can influence the way you play the game; the types of shots you take/don't take, passes you make/don't attempt.  I can see no fans having both a positive and negative effect on some players.

One Celtic that comes to mind is Carsen Edwards.  Edwards was considered a steal in last year's draft, given his prolific scoring and shooting while at Purdue.  After a strong performance in the Summer League, and a 30-point outburst in the preseason, the hype train had left the station.  Then the regular season started, and things went south.

One of Boston's weaknesses this year has been their lack of bench production.  I think the team was hopeful that Edwards was going to be that guy to come in and knock down a couple of threes each game, and have an occasional 10-12 point night.  Things haven't quite worked out the way the team had hoped.

Edwards has struggled with his shot, shooting just 32% from the field in 35 games, and bouncing back and forth between the NBA and the G League.  This is a guy who shot over 40% in his three years at Purdue.  Yes, the three-point line in the NBA is further back than in the NCAA.  However, with some of the shots Edwards was taking in college, I don't think the increased distance makes that much of a difference.

Sure, the level of defense and competition is significantly better in the NBA, but Edwards' struggles cannot be attributed solely to improved defense.

He has attempted 33 "open" jump shots - shots categorized as no defender within 4-6 feet.  He's made just 9 of those 33, including just 4 of 24 three-point attempts.  So, what happened?  Did Edwards all of a sudden lose his shooting touch?

As a role player, minutes are limited, meaning so are your shot attempts.  While in the grand scheme of the game, your two or three attempts may be insignificant, in the eyes of the player, each shot attempt is an opportunity, and each miss is a missed opportunity.  For a guy like Edwards, who is on the floor to knock down shots, if you're not knocking down those shots, that has to mess with your mental state.

With each future shot attempt, those struggles have to be in the back of your mind.  That pressure can be compounded by the pressure from the crowd, especially in a place like Boston.  The crowd is intense. The media is fickle and unforgiving.  A couple of bad games earns you the label of "bust".

Maybe it's a stretch, but is the added pressure of playing in front of the Boston crowd affecting him?  Edwards played at a big time Big 10 school in college, and played in the NCAA Tournament, so big crowds should be second nature to him.  Maybe there is something to that though.

The bottom line is that Edwards has struggled to adjust to the NBA for a multitude of reasons, but what better way to rediscover his shooting stroke than in an open gym?  The added pressure of the fans is gone.  It's just him and the basket, back to basics. 

It might sound crazy, and I'll admit it's a little farfetched, but these are the times we're living in.



Tell me how ridiculous this sounds on Twitter - @mcvay34

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Boston Sports Syndicate: One Celtic Who Could Benefit from Playing in an Empty Gym
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